29 October 2005

Loyalists to hit the streets again

Belfast Telegraph

By Deborah McAleese
newsdesk@belfasttelegraph.co.uk
29 October 2005

Hopes were high last night that today's Love Ulster mass rally will pass off peacefully, despite the expected presence of loyalist paramilitaries.

The terrorists will not be "uniformed" and there will be no show of strength, organisers said.

Those behind the event also said they were not expecting any trouble, but they accused republicans of attempting to fuel tensions by torching Whiterock Orange Hall on Thursday evening.

There had been speculation that up to 40,000 people would attend the Protestant rally which was organised to voice unionist frustration at political developments, but it is now believed the number could be significantly smaller.

The event was organised in the wake of civil disruption which followed the re-routed Orange Order parade at Whiterock.

The parade, which will include up to 70 bands, is due to start at 11.30am and travel along Northumberland Street, Shankill Road, Woodvale Road and finally gather at Woodvale Park at around 1.30pm. A wreath is to be laid at the scene of the Shankill bombing.

The Rev Mervyn Gibson of the Loyalist Commission, who is due to speak at the event, said there was definitely going to be no paramilitary show of strength but said everyone is invited and "whoever's there is there".

Event organiser Willie Frazer of the victims' group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR), said he was not expecting any trouble.

He said if any loyalist paramilitaries attended they would be able to hear that the people on the streets wanted an end to violence.

"If they do come it is better they hear from the communities that they want an end to violence," he said. "I will be calling for peace and unity, for an end to drug dealing and for all the organisations attacking each other to stop. I will also be calling for the Government to recognise the problems in our communities.

"There's a situation out there within the republican movement trying to heighten tensions. Whiterock Orange hall has not been touched in years and yet just days before this rally it was torched. This was not a coincidence. This was done to raise tensions."

Chief Superintendent Mike Little said: "I would also ask all those attending from outside the district to travel safely while making their way to and from north Belfast. Local police traffic and information patrols will be on hand to assist motorists on the day. Parking arrangements have also been made by the organisers for those planning to travel by bus."

Although it is believed the event will pass off peacefully there are fears that trouble may kick off as people make their way home past flashpoint areas.

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